Question for Rumsfeld: How Many More Catastrophes? And Victory for Whom?

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Donald Rumsfeld, deploying an analogy as cliched as it is scurrilous (at least in this case), likens critics of the Bush administration to those who opted for appeasement in the face of the Nazi threat.

“I recount this history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism,” he said.

“Can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?” he asked.

“Can we truly afford to return to the destructive view that America — not the enemy — is the real source of the world’s troubles?”

We needn’t waste time tackling the substance, such as it is, of this slur. Far more interesting is Rumsfeld’s later invocation of Clemenceau.

“You know from experience that in every war — personally — there have been mistakes and setbacks and casualties,” he said. “War is,” as Clemenceau said, `A series of catastrophes that results in victory.”

This represents a sort of progress, I suppose: at least it recognizes, if obliquely, that the Iraq campaign has been catastrophic. But it also shows he’s learned very little. That kind of self-serving, open-ended utopianism — “just wait, you’ll see” — is precisely the habit of mind that got us into this mess. It could be that these catastrophes will lead to victory. But how many more catastrophes (avoidable and not)? At what cost? And victory for whom? (pace James Fallows, that’s still a live question, in my opinion.) The corollary to Clemenceau’s glib maxim is that one side has to lose.

Rumsfeld’s optimism–to the extent that it’s sincere–no doubt serves a psychological function as he contemplates a conscience-haunted retirement. But it also demonstrates that his hubris–one pulverized country and tens of thousands of lives later– still knows no limits.

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